By Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz, D.D.
What a year it has been! In the public arena the cancellation of March Madness last year was the first domino to fall in the world of sports at the outset of the pandemic. The impact remains strong one year later as we watch a near empty arena in Indianapolis for this year’s marathon college basketball tournament on its run to the final four. It is an apt symbol for the past 12 months.
Although many have thrived and while others are creatively adapting, many families and communities across the nation and world are hanging on for dear life. Many are unable or unwilling to venture back out into the mainstream, while others are pressing to return to normalcy. We especially pause to entrust to God all whom the virus has taken in death, and for all who mourn their passing. The Lord’s cross is evident in their suffering, and we pray in the hope of the resurrection.
Paralleling the world of sports, the effect of the pandemic upon our worship services was drastic at the outset. Except for a world-wide pandemic who could have imagined that the curtain would fall down on all public services and ministries beginning in the middle of Lent and continuing through Palm Sunday, Holy Week, the Triduum, Easter Sunday and most of the 50-day Easter season.
Speaking on behalf of all the faithful of the Diocese of Jackson, that was March, April and May madness of a different sort. We began to creatively adapt on Pentecost weekend, and have stayed on course ever since. But our cherished public celebrations of faith over the past year closely mirror the world of sports and much more in our nation and world. It feels like we are walking through deep mud, or trying to walk tentatively on ice, when we are so eager fly on eagle’s wings.
Our churches have been amazing since the reopening last May. Gradually more and more of the faithful have experienced that we are balancing reverence with vigilance in our resolve to adore the Lord God and care for one another. Now, may our hearts proclaim the greatness of the Lord as we enter into the holist of weeks to commemorate the Lord Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection.
We are still unable to usher all comers into a full church because our protocols must remain in place for the foreseeable future, but the dawn of new life is shining upon us. The palms will be blessed and carefully distributed. The Chrism Mass will be celebrated on Tuesday of Holy Week with the priests of the Diocese of Jackson who will renew their ordination vows. The Oil of Catechumens and the Oil of the Sick will be blessed, and the Oil of Chrism will be consecrated, all of which will be distributed to our parishes throughout the diocese. The commemoration of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, his death on Good Friday, and the outpouring of joy at the Vigil of his resurrection will be a departure from the desert into the promised land.
There is a deep hunger to worship together as the Body of Christ, to hear God’s Word and to receive the Body and Blood of the Lord. The psalmist express this insatiable desire. “O God, You are my God, earnestly I seek You; my soul thirsts for You; my body yearns for You in a dry and weary land without water.” (63:1) “I used to contemplate you in the sanctuary, seeing your power and glory; for your grace is better to me than life. My lips will worship you.” (63:3-4)
Although it is not possible for the throngs to gather on this Easter Sunday, it is important to remember that the Catholic Church celebrates Easter Sunday for eight days through the Octave culminating on Divine Mercy Sunday, the second Sunday of Easter. Plan to celebrate the Lord’s death and resurrection at one of the weekday Masses, or at another time early in the Easter Season. Let us never forget that the “dawn from on high has broken upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:78-79)
Yes, the Lord Jesus is risen! For many in our world this is madness. For those who believe it is the madness of the Good News, twelve months out of the year.